What is the Right Money App for You?

In preparation for reviewing and rating (essentially choosing) the best personal finance apps as part of a series of blogs, I’ve finally chosen the criteria that is most relevant to me. My ratings are not based upon any peer-reviewed analytic model but rather on a kind of the Jaws 4: The Revenge approach.

This time, it’s personal!

SmartphoneI want to answer the question, “How will the app and I get along?” Yes, I recognize that this is a very subjective approach, but it works for me, and it will work for many (though not all) of you. What I want is an app on my mobile device (Android tablet and Android phone) that I’m comfortable using and that feels like my favorite t-shirt. I don’t want a program I have to “interface” with. I want trust, I want dialogue, I want communication, and I will even from time to time some advice and ideas on how to improve my behavior.

Below is my established criteria and their weighted importance. Each app will receive a 0-5 rating in each of the following criteria:

  1. Account Connectivity (x5): If the app can’t connect to my bank, credit union, lender or broker, there’s no point in the app taking up space on my mobile devices.
  2. Stability (x5): Equally frustrating is an app that crashes regularly or predictably. If the app closes unexpectedly at some point during my mobile experience, it will receive a 2. If it crashes my phone or tablet, it’s a zero.
  3. Mobility (x5): This is, after all, a review of mobile apps, right? If the app is not fully mobile (i.e. it requires desktop activity to add account, adjust budgets, identify expenses, etc.), it’s going to get less than a 5 on my scale.
  4. Multiplicity of Accounts (x4): If the app only connects with my bank or credit union checking and/or savings accounts, it will get a 2 or 3. I want an app that connects to my mortgage account as well as my small credit union checking account; that connects to my IRA account as easily as my bank’s saving account.
  5. Budgeting Tool (x4): As a budget and credit counselor, I can’t NOT require this in a mobile app I recommend. If the app doesn’t easily help me create a forecast of my income and expenses, it’s going to get a 3 or less. If the app requires that I input the budget, it’s going to definitely get a 2 if not a 1. I can enter expenses and income in a spreadsheet, but I want the app to do this for me.
  6. Security (x4): I’m not going to rate the level of technology (that’s beyond my expertise), I do want to rate the security’s intrusiveness and my level of comfort with it. If I have to enter a 15-digit pass code into my smart phone every time I want to use the app, well, let’s just say I’m not going to use the app. On the other extreme, if there’s not at least a four-number pass code to punch in, I’m going to be uncomfortable having my financial information on my mobile devices.
  7. Intuitiveness (x3): This is a mobile device, for goodness sake. If the app requires either a Ph.D. in computer programming or that I refer even ONCE to its help page or online manual, it’s getting a 1 or less at best from me.
  8. Expense Tracking (x3): Not to be confused with the budgeting tool, an expense tracking feature should tell me where I’m spending my money and how much I’m spending in general categories. To receive a 5, the app would have to determine automatically from my connected accounts how much I’m spending at restaurants and fast food joints, on entertainment and recreation, on utilities, on loans and credit, etc. If I have to enter the transactions myself and, gasp! categorize them myself as well, the app is getting a 1 or 0 in this category.
  9. Extra (x1):  At this time, anything beyond the above criteria is a bonus. And while I love bonuses, they are not the main course. If it comes with a free credit score, a breakdown of my investment portfolio, or an analysis of my daughter’s driving habits, that’s great, but not necessary. Still, I’ll give a few bonus points for any nice add-ons the app might have.

So there you go. I’ve already finished my first review (Mvelopes) but will blog about that separately. You’re welcome, of course, to do your own app reviews, and if you do, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Until then, have a fantastic day!

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